Generic Heroquest

Issaries has already comissioned a “generic” rpg game using the core HeroQuest rules and to be published with several sample genres of example worlds to play.
The Table of Contents has been approved and the author is now hard at work. We do not yet have a publication date.
We thank the fans for their interest in this fine project, and beg patience from everyone while the author completes the project.
Greg Stafford
President, Issaries, Inc.


How to play Dogs when you don’t want to play Dogs

Based on the back-cover copy for DitV and incorporating a suggested alternative setting from the GM’s section:

Dogs in the Junkyard is about the Mob’s enforcers, young men and women called on to keep the Family together and keep the business running — not necessarily in that order. From their home in Chicago, they’ll travel from burg to isolated burg, carrying news and instructions that can’t be trusted to phones or the mail, taking care of the Family and “taking care” of the disloyal.
The setting is a fiction inspired by any number of mob movies and television shows. The air is dirty, the suits are spotless, the guns are loud, and Silence is Golden.
Picture the Family, facing jailtime and prosecution from the Law, murder and betrayal from their competitors (and sometimes their allies). They?re running a business based on graft and violence, founded on family loyalty and respect. They?ve been around for years, but they’re still in danger on all sides — times keep changing, after all. The business has to be subtle and agile these days and it’s vulnerable to attack from within (betrayal, either purposeful or unthinking) and without. Under that kind of pressure, pride becomes resentment, resentment becomes hate, hate becomes violence… and everyone and their cousin is waiting for someone to make a big mistake.
You’re there to hold it all together.

…not that I’m remotely qualified to run this; I don’t have the media exposure I’d need at all.
Execution of the ‘towns’ would be essentially the same — a big mass of people, at least some of which have family ties to each other — in which Pride leads to Injustice leads to “sin” — strictly speaking, activities which weaken the strength of the Family in the area and allow either internal or external forces that will eventually tear the place apart.
Reading through all that blurb, it strikes me as a good… “something” for someone turned off by the default DitV setting, which in turn would probably be less interesting for the folks who already like the concept as is. It also nicely supports a “yah can’t just kill everyone, every time” idea — it’s bad for business. 🙂

Dogs in the Vineyard, first group chargen

Justin and I have been messing around with Dogs in the Vineyard a bit. I really like this game.
Anyway, last Sunday while Jackie and Justin were out of town, I was hanging out at the Consortium and several possible activities were proposed (many of them chargenish, since that seems to be the mode we’re into right now). What we settled on was working up PCs for Dogs in the Vineyard.
Margie worked out Destiny.
Randy designed Eli.
Dave created Suzannah Paulson.
The links are to wiki pages for the characters (some of which need a few things filled in by their respective players (*coff*Randy*coff*), but all of which are quite entertaining.

Solo DitV with the Boy: Chargen

Every other Saturday, Jackie attends a game that I’m not involved in, leaving me and Justin to bang around the house for about six or seven hours. Lately, he’s gotten into the habit of requesting that we play some kind of RPG. Paladin was his first request, and following that I pitched the idea of Dogs in the Vineyard, since there’s a bit of a thematic similarity (at least on the surface).

Continue reading “Solo DitV with the Boy: Chargen”

Asking questions to set up your game

Chris gives some great tips on how to get together for a new game and really tie your players’ characters into a Relationship Map in this thread. Excerpts from near the end of his post:

I think the big [goal] to [asking players questions about their characters to deepen the R-Map] is to get the players into a situation they really can’t just back out of. Yes, the players. They invent these characters and these Kickers in response to your questions and they think it’s all just sort of back-story. Suddenly they find that the entire game is about nothing but them; everything else is sort of incidental frills, in a sense. That’s what Doyce meant about GM-ing Sorcerer being zero-energy.
See, you might have in mind that all these Kickers are really about [X]. Forget that. If it works, it works, but it’s irrelevant. What matters is the characters, and putting them in situations where they have to make choices between Humanity and more apparently desirable options. They’re really tightly woven together through relationships, so that they can’t even agree that the situation sucks; instead you get,
“This sucks.”
“Yeah, that was always your problem, you’re a whiner, and that’s why you couldn’t ever get it up.”
“Oh, Lisa darling, maybe that wasn’t Dave’s problem, because you know, we have lots of fun in bed; maybe it’s your frigidity, and have you talked to a doctor about that? I just worry about you, you know.”
“Listen, bitch, just because you’re a slut who’ll screw a table leg….”

Meanwhile the city’s is in flames and your demons are ready to fight it out and you’re thinking “maybe I could just summon another demon.”
There’s some additional great observations from Scott about Chris’ “running Sorcerer and Narr by asking questions” technique over here. Highly recommended reading on how it all comes together in play:

Notice how Chris, in his post above, defines what’s happening by asking questions of the player. This is a subtle and radical shift in the focus of play. Most posts here have talked about how different Sorcerer is from other rpgs, but Chris’ post actually shows how it is different, if in just a humorous example.
Traditionally, a GM tells the player whats happening. The player functions as a receptacle of the GM’s imagination and makes a few choices, rolls a few dice. But the basic dynamic is “GM to player”. The vast majority of roleplaying is performed in this fashion with players affecting the plot only insofar as they are able to with good dice rolling, tactics or kewl powers.
Narr, at least as I’ve read it in Ron’s books (and the couple of times I’ve got it right by accident), is very different. It’s far more collaborative and the flow isn’t from GM to player but more like the GM setting the tone and overall big picture (not plot), the player setting the details, the GM working with those details and sending it back to the player, while the plot works itself out in the exchange (from my understanding, at least). The players are key collaborators in determining what the story is, where it goes and how it gets there. The story does not exist without the players. That’s a 180 degree shift from most roleplaying and your players may be butting their heads up against that.
The one key technique that I think you can take from this thread (and Chris’ post especially) is to ask the players questions. Everyone likes to answer a question. Everyone likes to help somebody else figure something out.

One of those things that you can get right in Sorcerer if you’ve been recently playing some InSpectres or Octane or Paladin or Trollbabe or Donjon or something — it’s more difficult if you’ve switching between a subtle narr-supportive system like Sorcerer or Heroquest from from a traditional system. Good stuff.

Weekend in gaming

Friday: Played InSpectres, in which our heros (a hooker, an ex-mormon mechanic, a fringe-fringe-FRINGE scientist, and a cold-war MI-5 operative frozen in stasis since 1960) open a new franchise juuuuust off the Strip in Las Vegas… in an abandoned Elvis Wedding Chapel.
Then they saved a haunted zoo. Much fun.
Saturday: I mugged a few people and forced them to convert their d20 Living Jungle Characters over to “Heroquest: Malatra.” Things went… confusingly, but I have some pretty high hopes for this marriage of Setting and System, once I work out all the kinks.
Sunday: Jackie was at the consortium playing ViD. Justin and I (at his request) made up a character for Paladin (a ranger-type on a mission from the Sword of Heaven Order) and played through the first encounter. Justin grasped the basic resolution mechanics as quickly as I could dredge them out of my rusty memory, and had a good time playing the guy in shining armor. Fun. (And more on that later.)

Change is… eh.

Well, I went back to a slightly tweaked version of the original blog page; not due to negative feedback as much as my own dislike of that intra-framed window. Ugh. Someday, someone will code a plugin for PMWiki that does what I want (basically a true “include” function), but right now, it’s not available.
I rearranged the layout here to follow the basic layout of the wiki. Also went through the wiki and reorganized a bit, creating customized sidebars (thanks for the hint on that, Dave) for the more expansive subjects (Sorcerer, Heroquest, the Duchy, and a few others) to allow for easier navigation within subjects.
Like I said: change, but nothing spectacular.

The Sorcerer/Amber Connection

So here’s an interesting thing:
One of the main bits of preparation that you’re supposed to do (as the GM) for a Sorcerer game is the Relationship Map. Now, if you don’t look at it too hard, it doesn’t really seem like much of a big deal — there’s a bunch of NPCs, and you’ve basically got an idea of what they’ve done, what they’re planning on doing, and what (potentially) they want out of the PCs. Some games would call this Background, but between a good Relationship Map and strong Kickers from the players — you’ve potentially got a really interesting story.
Ideally, the core of the Relationship Map is done up before play or even character generation begins, and the players are made aware of the basics — who’s who, what most people know about them… that sort of thing. The responsibility of the players is to tie themselves into the r-map in at least one, preferably two or more places.
To make matters even simpler, the sorcerer book (sorcerer & soul) that talks about this technique even goes so far as to show you how you can use the plot and characters of a good book to create your map — first, removing the book’s protagonist (PCs will fill that role) filing off the serial numbers, changing the genre, the era, the setting, but maintaining the basic relationships.
The author’s book recommendation in this regard are good noir detective novels from Hammet, et cetera, not because of the mystery (the mystery’s never really the point), but for the nice convoluted network of people and… ahh go get the book and read the rest.
Anyway… thinking about the source material recommended, who that influenced, and the games I’m familiar with, I realized that Amber is an R-Mapped game: network of characters with clear and strong relationships between each other and things they want — and the players are expected to make characters that tie into this map.
Then, all the GM has to do (in Sorcerer, this is the player’s job, but otherwise…) is come up with events that set each character into motion — something that changes the status quo and sets everything on it’s head — something they can’t ignore.
Sounds like pretty much every successful Amber game I’ve ever heard of.

Sorcerer, Grimm Therapy, Session 3

I’m actually combining two sessions into one actual play, since they were each relatively short (poor planning on my part, but there it is).
Okay. When we last left our pre-adolescent heros…
[crickets chirping]
Right, that was quite some time ago, so for Katelyn and Nicky’s previous events, I direct you here, and for Kermit, Aloysius, and Jackson’s exploits, go here and here. Jason Remkiewicz is new.
Note: yes, that’s quite a lot of people playing in a Sorcerer game. Due to the weird nature of the dual sessions, it actually was only four people playing initially, and five later, but that’s still a lot. There are upsides to this, but mostly downsides, and I’m glad I’ve set this up to be a pretty short story arc this time around. For more information on the rules of this particular game and background info, just go to the Grimm Therapy section of RandomWiki.
Now then…

Happy derangement

Johnny The Homicidal Maniac : Director’s Cut

Mayhem and violence rule in this collection of issues one through seven Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, by Jhonen Vasquez (creator of Invader Zim), as well as material seen before only in Carpe Noctem magazine. Dark and disturbingly funny, JTHM follows the adventures of Johnny (you can call him Nny), who lives with a pair of styrofoam doughboys that encourage his madness, a wall that constantly needs a fresh coat of blood, and–oh, yeah–his victims in various states of torture. Join Nny as he frightens the little boy next door (Todd, known to fans of Vasquez’s work as Squee), thirsts for Cherry Brain Freezies, attempts suicide, draws Happy Noodle Boy, and tries to uncover the meaning of his homicidal existence.

Ooh… material for the Kids Sorcerer game… heh. 🙂

Coding stuff

I’ve set up a few tweaks, which amount to combining the Random Encounters blog into the RandomWiki front page, using a PmWiki plugin called x-include.
I welcome feedback on the whole thing; I like the functionality, don’t totally love the look of the interface, but think it might get the job done. Input welcome, as it’s a snap to switch back.
(For those of you who absolutely must have the other version of the blog — simply go to — that should still work just fine.

Things to do in Denver when your PC’s Dead

Doc’s Blog … Confessions of a Game Addict: Game Dream 14: He’s Dead, Jim!

Many “traditional” RPGs incorporate the possibility of the irrevocable death/disabling injury of a player character into their basic mechanics, yet often skirt the issue of what happens to the game in such a case, instead encouraging the GM to “fudge” the results if the GM doesn’t want a given PC or PCs to die.
How has your gaming group, current or previous, handled character deaths due to system-legitimate causes, i.e. combat or traps (assuming no intent on the part of another GM/player to kill a given PC or PCs)? Which methods worked well, and which didn’t?

I’ve actually had a fairly high rate of PC death during the DnD game — I think Whisper’s been killed two or three times… Gebbet two or three… and Grim was basically vaporized like a baloney roll in a Hellraiser movie, just last session.
The group as a whole has been pretty okay with such things when they come up — to use Grim’s death as an example, I really couldn’t have asked for a better bit of in-character decision-making leading to his untimely demise — it was pretty brilliant (assuming you can can be “brilliant” while playing someone who’s INT just dropped to 2… anyway).
In a system like DnD, where you’ve got multiple pet-doors leading back through Death’s Gate, it really doesn’t have a huge amount of impact. Gebbet’s running about a half-level behind the rest of the group, maybe, but that’s it.
I think the group’s putting off resurrecting Grim for about two or three more encounters, because then Whisper will be able to do a resurect with no downsides (she’ll have access to level 9 stuff) — mechanical OOC motivation, but I do like the fact that no one’s in a HUGE hurry to get him back on his feet (or, considering how he went down… I guess that would be “get him feet to be back on”).

Getting Focus

While digression and kibbitzing has been a perennial complaint/joke/bugaboo around the gaming table, there was a point about two years ago when I’d gotten (I think) quite a bit better at keeping a game focused and moving things along — I think I owe a lot of that to my (then) habit of participating in convention gaming tables for Living campaigns (Star Wars, Greyhawk, and others) — simply put, when you’re at a convention and have put money down to play (or have a table full of people who have), and you’ve got 3.5 hours to get through 5 to 8 encounters in an enjoyable fashion, there’s a lot of incentive to focus.
Now, it’s an unspoken assumption that home tables are never as focused as Con games: it’s a larger group of people (at least some of the time), the setting for play is much more informal, there’s less of a time-crunch (you can always come back next session and pick up where you left off, right?), and of course you’re probably closer friends with your home group than the folks you randomly end up with at a convention table, so there’s going to be more visiting…
But I’m not sure if I buy that.

  • I (and the rest of the folks I game with regularly) are adults without a whole lot of free time — granted, when I hear most adult gamers lament that they never get to play Face-to-Face, it’s clear that our group of players schedules and plays more games than most, but that’s because we make a serious time commitment to play (more on that below), not becuase we actually have more time. As much as any player with 3.5 hours to play at a Con table, our time is at a premium.
  • Visiting. We do a lot of it, and I mean in general, not just while playing. More to the point, we do a lot of it in the same areas we play in — the family room becomes the gaming area simply by adding upside-down frisbees loaded with dice to the decor and scattering rule books around.
    • I’m not SURE if a change of locale (even a minor one) would help put people in a better mental space to play, but I think that the Need to Visit needs to be acknowledged among a group of gamers who are also friends. The fact is, if we’re scheduling a game to start a 4pm, and we BS until 8pm before we start playing, it obvious that we WANT to visit in an informal way, and that it’s going to be a lousy resultant game, regardless of what happens.
    • Possible solution — allocate some of the currently-slotted game-time as designated Visit Time — acknowledge that the visiting and kibbitzing will happen regardless, so SET A TIME to end it, concretely… maybe combining it’s conclusion with a physical move to The Place Where We Game and out of The Place Where We Visit, if that seems helpful or necessary.
    • Corollary: set a regular break (every two hours or something) where you leave The Place Where We Game to kibbitz and refuel for 20 or 30 minutes.
  • Many of the games I run are the sorts where you can (allegedly) get more done in 2.5 hours than you could in 10 hours in most mainstream systems, provided that’s what you’re doing: playing… getting things done… focusing. Maybe someone says something that reminds me of a story about my kid? Fine: I’ll make a note of it so I can bring it up during a break… something.
  • Maybe this is Social Contract stuff that needs to be set out prior to a new game starting (there will be Visit Time, Game Time, and regular breaks, so everyone gets booed and hissed for mixing activities and diluting both). Maybe it’s worth a try.
  • I have to wonder about group dynamics in this, and System… the OA game, for example, has identical composition to other games that have all kinds of focus issues… that’s a curiosity.

There should be a way to regain the kind of “Our Time Here is Precious” mindset that give’s us more in-character moments… whatever… just better payoff for the time spent, WITHOUT going back to regular Con Game participation to get myself in that 3.5 hour mindset (which in any case only works so far as the rest of the group has also done so).
There should be… Hmm.
Nothing more concrete to add here; I’m just thinking outloud.

I warned yah I’d do it…

With apologies to various good golfing movies, the sport itself, the hobby of roleplaying, and Ron Edwards, I present an alpha-draft of eighteen: a golfing epic for sorcerer.
* I need more descriptors, including (possibly) a better way to approach (har) Cover.
* An example relationship map would be very good to have, including a number of other players for the tournament, officials, club pros, potential significant others, et cetera.
* That said, I so want to run this. 🙂
Update: conversation about it here.

Nobilis pre-post-mortem

Let’s say you get into a book club. It’s a pretty interesting set up, where you get a tremendous number of new books (40 or so), for about forty bucks.
The only catch is you have to indicate *at the signup stage* which books you’re going to want to read during the course of the run. It doesn’t have to be books that are published at the time (you’ll be getting books regularly and about bi-weekly for… let’s say a year and a half), but of course the list is all going to be based on your preferences and interests that you have at that moment in time.
About halfway in, maybe less, you realize your preferences have changed. The first half-dozen books were great and exactly what you were hoping for, and you’ve found some wonderful and interesting bits here and there since then, but there’s also some things you’re getting that really don’t work for you at all, plus you’ve been reading some other stuff on the side and found out about a newer style of book club where you pay a bit more but get smaller batches of books, which lets you switch your preferences much more easily.
Basically, at this point, despite some great experiences, you’re ready for the last of the books to show up so you can read it and move on. You just want to get it over with, and that’s no way to read a book.
That’s pretty much where I am with the Nobilis game. I love the players, love the characters, and even like the storyline (such as it is), but I’ve taken the whole thing someplace that I don’t really find that engaging and basically I simply want to wrap things up as well as I can and move on; this one ran too long and tried to do too much: in retrospect I should have stopped after session six — that’s really where it stopped being a story and started being meeting minutes, a bunch of things I’m just not that proud of. Regardless, I’ve come to believe that shorter campaign lengths result in a much leaner and cleaner story arc overall and help keep the excitement level up at a higher level.
So… I love the game, and I think I need to finish it up cleanly and more importantly quickly, because it deserves the kind of concise attack that it came in with. Time to move on.


Game Dream 12: Onward, Jeeves!
In my current DnD campaign, NPC companions make little or no impression on the game — wizard’s familiars, for example, seem to come packaged with a small bag of holding that they sleep in until they’re needed for a boost to Spot rolls, and human followers are pretty much the same thing.
It’s been much different in other games: certainly, the NPCs in my Amber game were quite a bit more (inter)active, the Sorcerer game had all kinds of NPC stuff going on (and I only rarely forgot that an NPC like Yvonne was ‘there’).
I have a lot of interest in games like HeroQuest, Fate, and DitV, where relationships are part of the character’s scores in ways that dramatically affect the outcomes of all kinds of conflicts. WIth that kind of in-game benefit it’s actually in the Player’s best interest to use and integrate such characters in the game as much as possible. This gives the players more influence on the events of the game and (bonus!) helps prevent me from my inevitable NPC-forgetfulness: when you’ve got a hunter-follower who gives you bonuses in combat by backing you up, you REMEMBER that guy — when the loyalty and love you feel for your sister gives you an edge in climbing the Cliffs of Despair after her kidnappers, then she really matters to the game (which helps her matter to the story).
Rambling. Now, finished.

“Dogs” Kudos

DitV is Jonathan Tweet’s ‘Best Game of GenCon for 2004.

I almost didn’t pick Dogs because I didn’t want a game with characters that the players couldn’t respect. They sounded like thugs, Inquisitors in the American style. But it turns out that they’re not thugs. They’re righteous stalwarts and brave heroes. They root out and face down corruption with their hearts as well as their sidearms. The irony and anti-heroism I expected to find aren’t in the game.

I think what I like admire about Tweet is the broad range of his game design creds — Ars Magica and d20 3.0 on one end of the spectrum; Everway and Over the Edge on the other. I switch-hit between the crunchy near-skirmish-rules games and the oogly-googly diceless stuff as the mood catches me, and I like a game designer with that same degree of variation.